The Atlantic

The New Long-Distance Relationship

The same technological and economic developments that are pulling couples apart are also making geographic separation less stressful and more enjoyable.
Source: Alessandra De Cristofaro

The love life of Stanley Davidge, a 25-year-old network administrator for a national restaurant chain, is absolutely extraordinary.

Almost all day, Davidge, who lives in South Carolina, is in touch with his girlfriend, Angela Davila, who lives in Virginia and is job hunting. Despite being separated by a six-hour drive, they “shoot the bull and stuff” over FaceTime when Davidge has a break at work, they call each other in the car, and they watch TV together at the end of the day using a website that lets them share a screen. “It’s almost like being in the same room together,” he says of their tandem streaming.

The way Davidge and Davila maintain their relationship won’t impress anyone familiar with the internet and smartphones. But, considering the fullness of human history, it is astounding that two people in separate places can keep up such a rich relationship without much financial or logistical hassle—and think nothing of it.

It’s hard to say for sure whether long-distance relationships are more common than they were a generation or two ago, though some scholars suspect they are. “They’re there, and we think they’re on the increase,” says Laura Stafford, a communication scholar at Bowling Green State University who has studied long-distance relationships.

But the many forms that long-distance relationships take make them really hard to count: Couples (married or not) might live apart because they attend different colleges, they have jobs in different cities (or countries), one or both of them are in the military, one or both of them are in prison, or one or both of them have moved to take care of an aging parent. Further complicating matters, these arrangements can be relatively short in duration or last for years.

[Read: What does it mean to be ‘ready’ for a relationship?]

Still, there are two notable indications that more couples may be living apart these days. First, in a government survey, the number of married Americans 18 and older who reported that they live apart from their spouse rose from roughly 2.7 million in 2000 to roughly 3.9 million in 2017, though, frustratingly, the survey didn’t ask any of those millions why they weren’t living together. And second, according to the Pew Research Center, the share of “internet users with recent dating experience” who said they’d used the internet or email to keep up with a partner long distance jumped from 19 percent to 24 percent from 2005 to 2013. That’s a decent-size increase, though, a Pew researcher cautioned, it can’t be stated with any certainty how long or why those couples were apart. Some respondents could well have been thinking of the time they emailed their partner while away on a business trip.

Exact numbers aside, what’s certain is that long-distance relationships—a term I’ll use from now on to

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